Particle physics art

Subatomic – The King’s Artists project explores the connection between art and astrophysics


Written by Samantha Seto, PhD candidate in the Department of English, Faculty of Arts and Humanities and Student Digital Content Coordinator, King’s Culture

My recent experience with Subatomic, a performance resulting from the first phase of the King’s Artist’s collaboration between composer Christo Squier and astrophysicist Dr Teppei Katori, provides insight into an exciting project addressing this important question.

King’s Artist in Residence Christo Squier is working with Dr. Teppei Katori, Experimental Particle Physicist and Reader in the Physics Department of the Faculty of Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Engineering on a project on the subatomic world of cosmic rays . The project combines scientific research with artistic performances to analyze and visualize these high-energy particles coming from space. Specifically, Christo and Teppei explore an intelligence-based response to cosmic rays through musical performance, composition, sonication, and computer visualization.

We still don’t know much about cosmic rays, where they come from and how they reach this type of energy and their study is very important to humanity. So, it is really special for musicians to react to live cosmic ray data, in other words, to what the universe is giving in real time. – Teppei Katori, experimental particle physicist and reader at King’s

The first phase of the collaboration culminated with the first iteration of Subatomic, a ‘part experience, part lecture, part new music suite’ performance that took place at the Britten Pears Arts Festival of New at Snape Maltings, where Christo finished. one week residence.

In my role as student digital coordinator, I had the chance to watch the performance in the online version of the festival. The beautiful music performed by Christo, Teppei and an ensemble of instrumentalists expressed the duality between music and the cosmos and underscored the new hope of scientific discovery derived from a project that combines art and physics.

The subatomic performance focuses on the audiovisual demonstration of cosmic rays, high energy particles, which are projected by galaxy supernovae and other astrophysical phenomena in the universe. The musical compositions were constructed using scientific data from the Super-Kamiokande Neutrino Observatory, located inside a mountain in rural Japan. Creative technologist Chris Ball, working alongside Christo and Teppei, has found a way to convert that data into sound. While some musical pieces were constructed using pre-recorded data, others were improvised with data extracted live during the performance. Additionally, a device called a “Cosmic Watch” detected cosmic rays and generated signals that ultimately dictated the colors and brightness in the concert hall.

It absolutely blew me away that we were pulling live data from this multi-Nobel Prize winning experiment, hidden in a mountain in Japan, on my computer, using music software to create musical chords. – Christo Squier, composer & multidisciplinary artist

Christo and Teppei are now preparing for the performance of the next phase of Subatomic. In the future, their goal is to create a virtual environment based on the interior of a cosmic ray detector, which will transmute data into immersive audiovisual experiences creating the feeling of a “cosmic call response”. Through the visual art and performance project that would involve an installation processing real-time data, they hope to spark curiosity about the fascinating subject of astrophysics, particle physics and related research at King’s College London. . To follow Christo and Teppei on Twitter for future updates on their project.

It is really difficult for artists to improvise with live data because you cannot know when cosmic rays will be detected. But then, it is amazing to feel that your performance is the response to what the universe is giving you. – Teppei Katori, experimental particle physicist and reader at King’s

Christo and Teppei’s project is part of the King’s Artists 2021 cohort exploring the theme of “intelligence”. Out of eleven new collaborative R&D projects across four faculties at King’s College London, six have been selected to receive additional funding to further develop their projects.

Discover other King’s Artists projects from the 2021 “Intelligence” cohort:

King’s Artists offers artists the opportunity to reside in the faculties of the university and aims to support residencies that foster collaboration with students and staff from all disciplines to embrace creativity and take risks, developing new ideas and creative results.

King’s has a long history of welcoming and collaborating with artists in its faculties and in its wide range of research areas, bringing together nearly 60 artist residencies who have linked academic research to art through a range of media including painting, printing, literature, theater, music, performance, installation, photography, video, textiles, waxing, ceramics and fashion. Many artists and academics have presented the work and research developed at King’s during residencies on national and international platforms.

Samantha explores cultural London on Instagram. Follow @CulturalKings to read his recommendations.